October 2020 will be all about the glory of Mars as the shimmering red planet puts on a show in the night sky. We passed Mars̵
Mars has a reputation for being the “red” planet, but its color in the night sky is a little more on the Halloween side of the spectrum. It appears to the naked eye as a bright orange-red dot, like a small spot of glittering rust.
Mars’ distinctive color is an indication that you found it in the dark. Look to the eastern sky to see it rise at night. This is a great time to look at the planet, also because it is so easy to see. It should be visible most of the night. As NASA says, “Just go outside and look up. Depending on the weather and lighting, you should be able to see Mars.”
Check out ourif you need extra help with finding the planet.
Contradiction: October 13th
When Mars and the sun align with the earth in the middle, the red planet is said to be in opposition. This is a perfect time to watch Mars move across the sky. It will rise in the east when the sun sets, move across the sky, and then set in the west when the sun rises.
NASA describes opposition as “effectively a” full “Mars”. Tuesday October 13th is the time to enjoy the opposition. You have to wait over two years for it to happen again.
The Virtual Telescope Project, which provides us with live feeds of celestial events, will stream a tour of the Mars opposition starting at 1:00 p.m. PT. on October 13th. It’s a perfect way to enjoy the action without worrying about the weather. For people in the US, there is a preview of what to look for after sunset.
The project expects these to be “the best observation conditions since July 2018”.
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“The race track model of planetary orbits explains why. Earth and Mars are like runners on a track. Earth is inside, Mars is outside,” NASA said on its What’s Up blog for October. “Every 26 months, the fast earth catches up with the slower Mars and laps it. The opposition arises as soon as the earth takes the lead.”
Mars isn’t the only show in the sky in October. You can alsowhen our lunar neighbor is full on October 31st. It’s not scary; It is wonderful.
Back to the close approach on October 6th
Tuesday October 6th was Mars approaching Earth, but this entire month is still a good time to grab a telescope and take a little closer look. Wave towhile you’re at it. The vehicle is on track to reach the planet in February 2021.
NASA shared an artist’s view of the tight approach on Tuesday, October 6, compared to the last time he snuggled up in July 2018. The apparent sizes look very similar. This year Mars was a minimum distance of 62 million kilometers, which is about 3 million miles further away than it was in 2018.
The approach may be over, but the planet is still bright enough at night. So go out and have a look around or switch on the live feed of the Virtual Telescope Project from the comfort of your computer.